Searching for Mr. Darcy
Approaching self-declared spinsterhood, I blamed Jane Austen. Having read all her novels and watched achingly gorgeous film adaptations thereof, I would consider only men who epitomized one of those gallant and stouthearted Regency-era heroes (barring the breeches and riding jackets because, well, I had to be realistic).
Yet here was the sad but universal truth: If Jane Austen couldn’t find a suitable mate in her day and age — she never married — there was no way in hell I’d ever find my “Mr. Darcy” in L.A., of all places.
Sure, you could find a regimental army’s worth of rogues at any bar in Hollywood. And this town was teeming with preening and sniveling “Mr. Collins” types, those smarmy social climbers (typically agents and aspiring screenwriters) in hot pursuit of their trophy wife. Insufferable. As for honorable gentleman callers — the kind that would make you swoon while earning your mother’s seal of approval? — they were as rare as snow on the Sunset Strip.
Occasionally, a dashing young dandy had me blushing under my nonexistent bonnet. That’s when friends would set me straight by insisting that my gentleman caller definitely wasn’t. (“His favorite movie is ‘Xanadu,’ Amy! How are you not seeing this?”) Like a foolhardy Lydia Bennet, I was briefly led astray by an L.A. transplant from England, naturally besotted by his British accent and rakish charm only to discover, to my disgrace, that he was both a coke addict and a married man. Quelle horreur!
There was only one way to meet my 18th century ideal: Use 21st century tactics. Whilst grudgingly setting up an online dating account, I envisioned Austen screaming, “Fetch the smelling salts!” before swooning gracefully onto the nearest chaise longue.
Neither Colin Firth’s nor Hugh Grant’s doppelgangers materialized among my list of initial candidates. Nevertheless, my experience, to quote Mr. Darcy from “Pride & Prejudice,” “taught me to hope.”
My blitzkrieg of coffee dates, brunches and cocktail meet-ups introduced me to guys who were kind, smart, genuine and refreshingly normal. The aspiring actor wasn’t an egomaniac. The smarty-pants engineers were decent conversationalists. No one physically resembled Quasimodo in the slightest, and several were downright handsome. True, I didn’t feel a spark with anyone in particular, but I’d met men of quality and substance. None was my Mr. Knightley but might easily have been someone else’s.
Of course, there were some duds, too, ranging from a guy who stepped in dog poop during our date to another who sent me a poorly written, overtly sexual poem about a calla lily. And how could I forget the attractive Spaniard, who, with a sigh of relief, thanked me for being as thin in real life as I implied in my profile picture? (Because that’s how you woo a girl in L.A.)
Like a penniless Austen heroine, I used the dating site’s free trial period to maximum advantage, so that by the end of two weeks, I’d managed to meet about a dozen men. (“Strumpet!” I can almost hear Austen crying from her grave.)
The downsides of Internet dating are many, but one of the best parts is the comic post-mortem with friends that comes afterward. Over dinner at Kay ‘n Dave’s restaurant in Brentwood one Sunday night, I enthralled a close gal pal with stories of my cyber-dating adventures, and apparently, she wasn’t the only one. A gent at the table adjacent to ours eavesdropped on my courtship comedy. He was cute, which meant I’d naturally taken notice of him, but to what end? Jane Austen heroes didn’t frequent Mexican restaurants, after all.
Turns out I was wrong about that. After finishing his meal with friends and paying the bill, the stranger approached my table with a polite self-assurance.
“I’m so sorry to interrupt,” he said, “but I couldn’t help overhearing that you might be single, and if that’s the case, well, I’d love to throw my hat in the ring.”
There was no Georgian manor house, no white steed, or lilting minuet playing in the background. Just a lovely man with smiling eyes who nobly reached out to a damsel in dating distress.
That, in the end, is how I found my swain the old-fashioned way. In the months that followed, I kept waiting for the proverbial other shoe to drop, until he jokingly assured me, “There is no other shoe. I’m a one-legged man.” Jane Austen couldn’t have written anything better. We’re married now, and, for the record, he proudly owns a T-shirt that says, “Hello, my name is … Mr. Darcy.”
Helmes is co-author of the Twisted Lit series of young-adult novels, including “Anyone but You,” a modern twist on “Romeo and Juliet.” L.A. Affairs chronicles romance and relationships. Past columns and submission guidelines are at latimes.com/laaffairs. If you have comments to share or a story to tell, write us at firstname.lastname@example.org.